From Sighting to Fighting

When war began in August 1914, the RFC immediately flew 41 of their 140 aeroplanes out to France. Most were BE2c and Bleriot aeroplanes used for observation. Fighter planes came later.

BE2c over the trenches

Title: BE2c over the trenches
Description: IWM (Q 069315) by-nc

These British aeroplanes were slow and easy to fly so pilots could look for the enemy and report back. Their first successes came in September 1914 when RFC airmen reported German troops advancing on Paris. Their sighting helped Allied forces to stop the German advance.

Both sides wanted to avoid losing the tactical advantage, so began shooting down each other’s observation planes, both in the air and from the ground. Then suddenly in 1915, a new fighting plane appeared and introduced a new dimension to warfare—air combat. The Germans had fitted a machine gun to the fast Fokker Eindecker aeroplane that could safely shoot through the whirling blades of the propeller. German pilots now simply pointed their plane at poorly defended Allied planes and easily shot them down.

A technology race began and the British introduced the effectively armed DeHavilland 2. The race continued throughout the war as both sides constantly competed to improve fighter performance. Training airfields like Doncaster became essential to provide trained pilots for the Western Front as casualty figures soared.